**** The Pitch: Required post-Mothers’ Day Viewing
I’m on a documentary kick right now and HBO showed this affecting offering the day after Mothering Sunday, a sensitive scheduling for an awkward subject.
The doc revolved around three young women making their way in the world without that most important of figures present, the mother. Each woman was coming into contact with an aspect of their mother’s legacy, be it education, age or motherhood. Having given birth to a bouncing baby girl herself, Leticia was taking action to see if she had inherited the BRAC genetic mutation that had been responsible for the early deaths of her mother and grandmother. Artist Ginger, also pregnant, was facing up to the emotional legacy of her mother’s suicide, and teenager Jordyn was debating whether to go away to college or attend UCLA, the alma mater of the mother she wants to know more about.
These stories were interspersed with famous figures talking about growing up without a mother. Jane Fonda talked about the conspiracy of silence in her family, following her mother’s suicide. Rosie O’Donnell shared her bonding experiences with Madonna (who, like Rosie, lost her mother to cancer as a child). SNL’s Molly Shannon talked of the comforting brush of her piano teacher’s silk blouse, having lost her mother and baby sister in a car accident when Molly was just four.
When I was a little girl, I watched Bambi. It was the first time I realised that mums could die. And from then on I said a silent prayer each night for God not to take my mother away from me, in spite of a lurking suspicion that he would (my mum was sick on and off throughout my childhood and then, finally, just on).
It only took ten minutes of watching The Dead Mothers Club before I lost it, bawling like a baby and watching the remainder of the film through a veil of tears. Yup, I’m a member of the club too. Have been for over a decade and I can attest to the fact that it never gets any easier. Whatever age you are, your relationship with your mum is easily the most complicated you’ll ever have, even more so if it’s one sided (and there is not even an address where you can send complaints). Some days I am accepting of our relationship (or lack thereof) and other days I have one-sided rows with her, some days I just miss her unbearably and cry myself to sleep (making sure my husband is safely snoring first).
When I think of all the ‘firsts’ mum missed out on because she was ill and then gone during my youth, I feel utterly desolate. And being in a new country with no one here who ever met her doesn’t help. This was something that Leticia must have felt too, as she returns to the comfort of her extended family in her native Brazil by the end of the film.
I also related to Jordyn’s heightened feelings of responsibility towards her younger sister Brooke. I too feel very responsible for my younger brother and have done ever since my mum got sick (my brother was very young at the time). And I recognised the feelings of ‘wildness’ and strange ‘freedom’ the interviewees detailed, that go along with not having anyone to curb your behaviour. In my brother’s case this involved sky diving without telling anyone, in mine it was starting outrageous conversations with virtual strangers.
My mum’s illness made her emotionally retreat, so I felt ‘motherless’ for a good few years even before she passed. She called me the ‘wild child’ when I came back from parties or rock festivals having consumed too much of everything on offer. I did it because it was a chance to escape from the anxious environment at home and school. When we were in our early 20s and still living at home, my brother and I would throw house parties where coffee granules would be thrown, cakes would be smushed, guns would be fired, and plates would be smashed. We were OK with it because without mum, it was our house alone, and my dad would often be elsewhere and didn’t particularly care about material possessions. Or emotions. Parenting, he stated (and still does, bless him) was ‘your mother’s responsibility’.
From the documentary, it seems that becoming a mother (or a grandmother in Jane Fonda’s case) is the turning point in the healing process. Once you are the centre of someone else’s world, it’s not that you stop missing her, in fact maybe you feel closer to her and understand all of the sacrifices or minute gestures that went into making her life with you. You have something in common now, but as Rosie points out, now you realise that you destiny is not necessarily going to be the same as hers. All but one of the documentary subjects had become mothers themselves by the end of the film and there seemed to be a sort of peace that accompanied this. And for that reason, rather than wallowing in sentimentalism, I think this documentary was educational. Especially as most of us will join the club at some point.
Maybe I’ll become someone’s mummy myself one day (lucky them…), and if so, I hope I can do the job well and that it does help to heal things. No matter the state of affairs, I hope all the mothers, daughters and sons out there had a peaceful Mother’s Day.